I have a friend- we’ll call him Dan- whose world was train wrecked 10 years ago when his wife of 5 years informed him that she was a lesbian and wanted out immediately. As if that wasn’t a big enough kick in the gut, they had a one year old daughter facing a future that Dan had never even contemplated.
Now a decade later, Dan’s daughter is 11 and entering middle school next year. His ex-spouse has basically done all in her power to undermine, compromise, and effectively dismantle the efforts of Dan to raise her in the ‘nurture and admonition’ of the Lord.
Dan’s daughter has made a commitment to Jesus Christ and is dedicated to remaining a fully devoted follower as she heads for the adolescent wrecking machine known as junior high.
Dan and I chat fairly often because of my marital background. I’m divorced as well, and thought my ex-spouse wasn’t openly averse to me taking my two kids to church and raising them in a godly home, the worldview being propagated in her home posed challenges of consistency in terms of what exactly is the truth about Christianity and what it looks like to follow Jesus. And similarly, my children- although older (and only slightly scarred survivors of middle school) are committed Christ followers as well.
So I sat down with Dan last week to get some practical wisdom for those dealing with the challenge of dealing with an ex-spouse who doesn’t consider belief in God, church and the Bible to be important. If you are in this situation, our prayer is that you find these helpful approaches that bring you hope in the midst of what feels like a hopeless situation.
#1- Communicate with Gentleness and Respect
Gentleness and respect are sometimes the last two traits on the menu for many of us when we communicate with our exes. But you need to remember, if you are co-parenting with an ex, you are in a lifelong journey with a myriad of critical communication pieces. While it is frustrating or even infuriating that your child’s mom or dad doesn’t support your convictions about raising your child in a godly home, it is imperative that you “be at peace as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). I realize that nearly every conversation is pre-loaded with potential emotional explosions, which is why the ones about the spiritual development of your child are especially important to keep gentle and respectful.
Dan would consistently strive to communicate civilly and rationally with his ex with an attitude of Christlikeness, and over time his soft answers were able to turn away wrath. So rather than take a defensive position when discussing church or the Bible, instead communicate understanding and gentleness. This becomes easier when you put yourself in your ex’s shoes. For example, what if he/she called and told you that this weekend your child would be visiting a Buddhist Temple or Islamic Mosque? What if he/she insisted that The Koran would be a regular part of his/her daily devotions? Even if you don’t agree with her perspective, make your best effort to seek to understand her perspective. Jesus’ words definitely apply here:
Do to others as you would like them to do to you. (Luke 6:31)
Listen to your ex’s concerns and address them one by one rather than trying to win the entire battle in one conversation, because you would probably like that to be the case if the tables were turned.
#2-Invite Your Ex into the Situation
Most people that are against kids going to church, reading the Bible, etc. are convinced that religious upbringing is essentially brainwashing children into a guilt ridden worldview devoid of freedom.
And yep, in many circles, it is!
And so in some ways you can see why a misperception on your ex’s part in terms of why you want your child to go to church and read the Bible might be at the heart of the disagreement. The key here is to explain to your ex what motives and desires are behind your conviction that these things need to be a supported part of your parenting strategy.
For example, what worked for Dan was a series of conversations that centered around the loving and supportive atmosphere that the children’s programs provided for his daughter. He kept all the Sunday School materials and gave them to his ex to show that there wasn’t any brainwashing going on, and the friendships she made were actually a helpful part of her development. If you can demonstrate to your ex that church involvement is helping meet the same goals that he/she has for your child, it will probably change the whole conversation.
Another strategy that worked for Dan was to invite his ex to church and/or have her sit in on his children’s Sunday School/Youth Group meetings. Once she came and was able to see firsthand that their children were being cared for by solid and fun loving staff, it caused her to be less obstinate towards church involvement. (This situation should be a good reminder to pastors and youth workers that you never know who is sitting in on our venues. Would you preach that last sermon a little differently if you knew that one of your 11-year-old students brought her lesbian mother to church that day? Would she have encountered Christ’s love that day?)
#3- Trust in Proverbs 22:6
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
This is an oftentimes misinterpreted verse that leaves many parents feeling as though God has abandoned them if their children don’t follow Jesus into adulthood. The phrase, "onto the right path" is usually assumed to mean "in the way of righteousness, church attendance" etc. - but this is not what Solomon meant here.
The Hebrew phrase from which the words “onto the right path," means "according to the sense of his way," – in other words, in harmony with their disposition, natural talents, and individual characters. As well, Proverbs are not meant to be taken as promises, rather they are probabilities that more often than not are validated.
So rather than putting our parenting eggs in the basket of “if I take them to church and have family devotions, my children will be godly and wise,” we need to undergo a paradigm shift. Directing our children onto the right path means to diligently study and learn how they are wired and what kind of approach will work the best in teaching them about following Jesus.
For Dan and his daughter, it was (and still is) a huge issue of role modeling. His ex could say and do contradictory things that was meant to undermine his efforts, but that did nothing to lessen the impact of his Christ-like attitude and skill in raising her in harmony with the way God designed her.
As well, when Dan released the results of his efforts and trusted God with His daughter’s future, it freed him up to focus on parenting and engaging in the moment rather than worrying about what he couldn’t control. Dan and I both have clung to these verses:
I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)As parents raising children in a divorce situation, it is critical for us to remember that our efforts in raising them to know and love Jesus are much like planting seeds. We do all we can to till the soil and provide the right conditions and plant the seeds as deep as we can, but we can’t control the weather or the growing process.
The good news is that God ‘makes the seed grow,’ so we can rest in that even when by all outward appearances that our labor might go in vain.
Divorce happens, ex spouses undercut, and circumstances seemed stacked against us, but our unchanging God is still on His throne in absolute sovereignty. May He multiply and bless your parenting efforts.
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